On Becoming an Artist: Isamu Noguchi and His Contemporaries,1922-1960 recently opened at the Noguchi Museum. Marking the museum’s 25th anniversary, the exhibition looks at how Noguchi’s network of friends, mentors and colleagues influenced his work and helped him throughout his prolific career. Objects on view include personal correspondence, architectural models, paintings, drawings, musical scores, photographs, and furniture, inviting viewers into Noguchi’s biography and oeuvre. One thing not on view: his ubiquitous 1947 coffee table. Instead, curator Amy Wolf opted to display things that haven’t been exhibited before, including a c.1945 marble-top table, and c.1941-1942 mosaic-top table, both prototypes. I chatted with Ms. Wolf at the opening, and here’s what she had to say.
How has looking at the relationships between Noguchi and his peers helped better understand and inform his work?
Surely talent and will-power are important parts of Noguchi’s career, but so is his large and complex web of relationships. Some are people well-known, others not known to the public; Noguchi was like a sponge with them all. For example, somebody like [Constantin] Brancusi taught Noguchi how to handle materials like stone and marble, how to use the necessary tools and connect to the artwork.
What was the most interesting aspect about Noguchi’s career you’ve discovered in the process of researching for the exhibition?
If anything interesting was happening in the [art] world, Noguchi had to personally experience it for himself. When Mexican murals started to take off, he went to Mexico to work with the muralists. When he wanted to learn about Chinese ink paintings, he had to be in China.
What message can those familiar and new to Noguchi’s work expect to leave the exhibition with?
Becoming an artist is partly what you’re born with and partly what you make it. Noguchi had to find people, find apprenticeships, and to find something to say. You can have technique, but you have to marry skill with having something to say.